Picture Pilate standing next to the bloodied, tattered body of our Lord before the crowd from The Passion of the Christ. Listen to his statement: “I am innocent of this man’s blood. “

I was sitting in this Good Friday service with no responsibility, no upcoming Easter message to present. My sole purpose was to experience the service like everyone else there. And I was. The Holy Spirit rushed Scripture upon Scripture to my mind. He was bruised for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities.

Suddenly, it came. Trickles, then torrents. I was once again immersed in an overwhelming sense of shame over my sin, the sin that put Jesus on that cross. And I wept.

Now the greatest shame of it all: many of us (dare I say most of us?) have not had such a moment since our surrender to Christ. Or at least not since those early days when our souls were so sensitive to spiritual truth and transformation that any sin we committed agonized us as if something hot approached sunburnt skin. We jerked away, wept., ran from it. And now?

I was blessed to feel the shame. I won’t stay there because Sunday’s coming. And my shame will all be taken away. Power will replace it. The power to run, be different, feel joy and peace. But today I was painfully reminded of sharing in the shame so that I can share in the living.

Do you feel the shame?

Ron Ramsey, Bishop
“The problem with denominations is that they want to shape the mission around their polity, rather than shape the polity around the mission. The latter view is the spirit of all the founding fathers and mothers of every denomination, while the former is the sorry state of every denomination today. The lack of mission urgency in North America means that denominational leaders think they still have time to develop modest, incremental strategic plans to tinker with polity, and time afterwards to then go about mission. The truth is just the opposite. The eternal destinies of individuals do not allow such laxness” (Paul D. Borden, “Hit the Bullseye”).
Stop and think about that paragraph for awhile. The history of this denomination would vouch for its truthfulness. Otterbein and Boehm didn’t seem too concerned about polity. They were driven by an insatiable desire to see lost people find Christ. Now we have conferences to change discipline and polity without even being greatly disturbed at the ineffectiveness of many of our churches in fulfilling a mission to the lost. As a result of being in this office a short time, I have been left reflecting on what it would take to bring us back to have a missional focus again. Do we really see the Great Commission as our mission? Was God a missionary God? If so, then isn’t the one mission of the church clear?
This Sunday we will gather in churches to celebrate the resurrection, ascension, and glorification of the Lord of the Church. Maybe, just maybe, “He expects the church in dependence upon him to accomplish great things” (Borden, “Hit the Bullsey”). And to be urgent in fulfilling our mission. Does it make any eternal difference whether persons place their faith in Jesus Christ? If the eternal destinies of individuals are determined by whether they have placed saving faith in Jesus, then maybe we ought to ratchet up our urgency of communicating the Gospel. I think probably most of our congregations believe it makes a difference, but many surely don’t act like it.
What if church wasn’t for us? What if church is really about reaching the lost? I know, we all want fellowship, being with our Christian friends, worshipping God…but we will have an eternity to do all that. Maybe church isn’t really about us. Maybe it really is about the mission! Reaching people, making disciples for Jesus Christ.
How different would our church and churches look if we really acted like we believed our task is missional? I think it would change how we talk about and to one another. I think it would change our priorities. I think it would change what it took to upset us.
Steve Dennie passed this quote on to me, I share it with you. It is from C.H. Spurgeon:
“If sinners be damned, at leasty let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”
WOW!

Greg Voight has been assigned as senior pastor of the Lancaster UB church in Lancaster, Ohio. He had been serving on staff at Oak Harbor UB church in Oak Harbor, Ohio. The assignment is effective May 6.
Mark Rutledge has been named senior pastor of PraisePoint UB church in Willshire, Ohio. The assignment takes place immediately. Rev. Rutledge has been serving there as interim pastor.

Ron Ramsey, Bishop

A study I read said that filling a church pastoral vacancy now takes 18 months on the average. With that in mind, I have been pondering whether it is time for us to develop an Interim Pastoral system. Being an effective interim pastor requires a set of skills that are a bit different that those for a long-term pastorate.

Just wondering what your thoughts might be on the subject and whether you have had any expereince being an interim pastor or being in a church that has had an interim pastor.

Ron Ramsey, Bishop
erinn_200.jpgWhen you call Pat Jones or me, you will be introduced to a new voice. That voice belongs to Erinn Caley, who became the Administrative Asst for Pat and me. Erinn graduated from Huntington College in 2003 and served two years in Japan teaching English. She is a gifted writer and photographer, and posseses computer skills that will be very valuable for this position.
If the names sounds familar, it is because probably is. Erinn is the daughter of Rev. Mike and Lynne Caley. Mike is pastor of the Banner of Christ UB Church near Grand Rapids, Mich.
So the next time you call either Pat or me, you’ll probably talk to Erinn first. Say hello and intoduce yourself. She is a delightful addition to our office staff.

Ron Ramsey, Bishop
Just another brief encouragement to pastors and lay people that this seminar is coming soon: April 18 at Huntington University. We have many churches that I would characterize as being turnaround situations. We ought to have a number of our churches represented at this seminar. Pastor, if you can’t go because of work schedule, why not send the chairperson of the board or the chairperson from some of the key commissions, i.e. Word, Worship, Evangelism & Discipleship…
This is a quality presenter presenting a quality seminar, and I would hope that many of our UB churches which are struggling in relevant ministry would take advantage of the opportunity to attend. At this point, not many UB churches are registered.
If you need further information, you can contact me or the Graduate School.
I’ll be there. Hope to see you there as well!

Ron Ramsey, Bishop
Ken Sande, President of Peacemaker Ministries, says in an article that I had just read that:

  • 23% of all current pastors in the US have been fired or forced to resign in the past.
  • 45% of the pastors who were fired in one denomination left the ministry.
  • 34% of all pastors presently serve congregations that forced their previous pastor to resign.
  • And this one is really gripping: 1500 pastors leave their assignments every MONTH in the US.

The major reasons, he says are conflict, burnout, or moral failure.
He lists the most common causes for forced exits:

  • The church already being conflicted when the pastor arrives.
  • A lack of unity and the presence of factions in the church
  • Conflicting visions for the church
  • A church’s resistance to change
  • Power and control struggles
  • Personality conflicts
  • Poor people skills on the part of the pastor
  • Conflict over leadership styles
  • Dissatisfaction with the pastor’s performance
  • Theological differences.

After just a few months on the job, I would have to concur with much of what Sande has written. One concern I have is how awful we treat one another in the church. The way we speak to and about our brothers and sisters is in many cases just plain old sin.
Is it any wonder that we have trouble with evangelism and discipleship in many of our churches? Who would want to be “born again” into that sort of family? Many of the conflicts could be managed if people would simply act like the Christians that they say they are.
Now, don’t get the wrong impression. We have many good churches, great churches even, who do deal biblically with their conflict. But in the short time I’ve been in this job, I have seen the other side in far to many situations.
Brothers and sisters, this church needs a revival. Not some emotional meeting, but a revival that would put people right first with God and then with one another. We need a revival of attitudes, of values, of vision, and of mission. We are floundering for a revival. And as I say that, I realize that the image that pops up in so many minds involves visions of the past. We don’t need a revival of the past, we need a revival of the present that will impact our future. We do not need some emotional appeal that doesn’t affect the mind and will, but a move of the Holy Spirit that involves a change in the way we think, act, and feel.
My heart is burdened for this church and her future. People have told me that what we need are more “altar calls.” I agree, and let me explain what I mean before you get excited.
It seems to me that an altar in the Bible had several purposes. It was a place of remembering or memorial, a place of sacrifice, and a place of meeting with God. In the Old Testament, altars were placed beside rivers, in open fields, and on top of mountains. They certainly were not limited to one place in the temple.
Just think with me on this one. We need altar calls in beauty shops, barber shops, schools, factories, offices, homes, gyms, doctor’s offices, sporting events…. We need altars wherever there are people who have not met and fallen in love with the Lord. So it is reasonable to expect that Christians who frequent all these places plus a whole lot more should be building altars there and inviting people to develop a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
If we are going to impact our communities, we must take the altar out from the front of our churches and erect altars where there are lost people. There are many ways one can do this, and I’d guess that each of you could come up with your own list that is probably better than mine. So why don’t you come up with your list? Why don’t we pray for full altars in all of these places.
Some may wonder, “What is he talking about?” Just this: if we are to survive and thrive, we need to get the message out of pews and get it to where people are. After all, wasn’t that the strategy of the Apostle Paul (read the book of Acts)? What would happen if each of us considered ourselves to be a missionary at the beauty shop, barber shop, sporting events, schools, factories, offices, in our small groups…?

Okay, you know we are talking about Revelation here.

I just read an article from Peacemakers about the toll conflict is taking on the church and on pastors. Conflict has hindered or ruined many churches’ ministry. It has contributed to burnout or “run out” for pastors. In one denomination, they have 1,500 pastors per year check out of ministry, all because local church leaders (both pastors and lay leaders) seem unwilling or ill-equipped to address internal issues.

That moved me to revisit the messages the Lord gave the seven churches of the Revelation. The messages and calls to action are relevant for today. See where your church fits, and what God’s call is for your life.

Church 1: Ephesus was a doctrinally sound church. Solid on truth. But the Lord said they lost their first love, their reason for existence. The Call: Repent.

Church 2: Smyrna was a poverty church, in affliction because of its location and circumstance. The Lord did not rebuke them but encouraged them. The Call: Be faithful and hold on.

Church 3: Pergamum was located in a difficult, sinful community. They did not have biblically sound teaching in their church. They held to some strange things. The Call: Repent

Church 4: Thyatira showed evidence of moving ahead spiritually. But they were at a crucial point. They tolerated a very ungodly, sinful woman to have say over what happened in the church. The Call: The wicked should repent; others should hold on.

Church 5: Sardis had a reputation for and self-perception of being alive, but they were truly dead. This shows the need for an objective evaluation of us and not just our own. The Call: Wake up, repent, and obey.

Church 6: Philadelphia was faithful, battle-worn, and weary. They were commended and reminded of God’s promises. The Call: Hold on.

Church 7: Laodicea was lukewarm. They weren’t blatantly sinful nor spiritually sound and productive. They were blinded to their condition as well. The Call: Repent

Notice the consistent call God is placing on churches: REPENT. As I work with cluster leaders who are intervening with churches and as the Bishop receives numerous communiques from various places, it is clear that sin, gossip, powerplays, control, etc. are conditions hindering many of our churches. Tolerating sin while neglecting truth is commonplace. And the call is for repentance. Otherwise, the Lord will take action to remove the church from existence.

I implore you to examine your own church. Better yet, do a Natural Church Development (NCD) survey or use some other objective tool to assess the condition of your church. Then take the appropriate actions in response to God’s call.

This summer, it is the desire of the Bishop (and also mine) to do further training with the cluster leaders, that they might in turn help pastors better learn to deal biblically with conflict. We also want to examine how to create an atmosphere in which it is normal to handle conflict this way.

WinstonSmith.jpgJamaica Annual Conference was held March 15-19, using the theme “Healthy Churches–God’s Plan for Growth.” The meetings were held at the Malvern Campground, with the large final service held at a Missionary Church camp outside of Mandeville.
Rev. Winston Smith was re-elected as the leader of Jamaica National Conference, a position he has held since 2002. However, the title has changed. Instead of “General Superintendent,” he will now hold the title of “Bishop.” The national conferences in Canada, the US, and Mexico also give the title “bishop” to their highest elected leader.
Pat Jones, the US Director of Healthy Church Ministries, attended the meetings and presented seminars on issues related to church health. He submitted the following report:
“My wife, Pam, and I had the privilege of attending the 55th annual session of the Jamaican Conference. We were asked to come and teach them healthy church principles. It was a time of renewing some old friendships and establishing some new ones. Their energy and desire to learn were refreshing. Some of the key issues they discussed and acted on were:

  • “Continue to take responsibility for funding their building and church planting projects. They believe they can do much more than they have. Just as in the United States, if their folks were tithing and sacrificially giving, they could do much more.
  • “Change some of their procedures to free people from so many meetings so they can do the things they do well and allow others to share the load.
  • “Shift from talking about and voting to do things to truly implementing them.
  • “To engage the next generation in significant decision-making.

“We found that the challenges facing the church are the same around the world. I commend our Jamaican brothers and sisters for seeking to hear about principles that would help them change. They recognize that the issue is not knowledge alone, but being willing to pay the price to move from the comfort zone of what they have always done. There is an expressed desire to do so, but will there be a willful desire? Time will tell.
“Unity among them as they move ahead was a major theme throughout the conference. We pray that we may follow their example. We must joyfully and in unity do whatever it takes to effectively take the Gospel to this generation.
“We are looking forward to seeing all that the Lord is going to do in and through them in the days ahead. We believe that they are going to make a huge impact in their community for Jesus Christ.”
Follow the link below to view a number of pictures from the meeting.

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A dedication service for the new Living Stone church in Macau was held during the afternoon on February 26. This photo shows the people who attended. Most of the guests were from Hong Kong, and from the other two UB churches in Macau, Living Water and Living Word. Click on the photo for a much larger view.

A few persons should be pointed out. Front row, from the left: Jana Hoobler, Karis Vong (pastor of the Living Water church), Michael Chan (Chinese coworker in the English Language Program), missionaries Naomi and Carlson Becker, Mark Choi (Hong Kong Missions Director), and Ajiax Wo (Superintendent of Hong Kong National Conference). Sitting behind Jana Hoobler on the left are missionaries David and Melissa Kline.
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Jana Hoobler praying during the service.

Missionary Jana Hoobler reports, “Living Stone Church is off to a good start. Besides our staff, a few local people are attending regularly. A lot of our friends have also come to a service or two to sort of ‘check it out.’ The average attendance has been around 15 (seven of us are on staff). I’m loving being really involved in a church again, instead of just ‘attending worship,’ as I’d been doing the past few years at Living Water. I get excited every time someone walks through that door on Sunday morning!
JanaCarlson_300.jpg“The people who’ve been attending worship services at Living Stone are a variety of mature Christians, new Christians, and non-Christians. Pray for our staff and especially for Pastor Carlson and Michael (our local co-worker) as we seek to meet their broad spiritual needs.” (The photo on the left shows Jana translating for Carlson Becker.)

“I’m teaching fewer adult classes and more children’s classes right now. Several parents have shared struggles they’re facing in their families with me. I’m thankful for this deepening of our relationships. Pray that I’ll know how to point them to God as the ultimate Healer for their families.

“I’m in the middle of more paperwork with the government to get my official permanent residency in Macau. Please pray that it will all go smoothly.”